Dalian's 'Ruining' Talks Building Dreamy Architecture Out of Modular Synths
Reposted from: theBeijinger by Will Griffith | February 21 2019
Much like seminal post-rock outfit Wang Wen’s frontman Xie Yugang, whose recent ambient work has garnered him attention worldwide (including a recent collaboration with renowned French guitarist Serge Teyssot-Gay), another former rocker and multi-instrumentalist from Dalian has thrown his hat into the lush soundscapes found within the atmospheric genre known as ambient music.
Ruining, who previously played in the now-defunct Which Park, Spiral Cow, and most recently, DOC, emerged last year with the absorbing instrumental album Eternity and a Day – which ended up being one of my favorites of the year.
The artist, who specializes in modulating synthesizers and compiling synthesizer patches to create a rich and textured sound, uses every trick in the book – glitches to plucked strings, piano chords to modular synth tomfoolery – engulfing listeners in a world that feels forgotten and lost. A meditative, melancholic spell looms over the proceedings, giving each track a transcendent aura, but one that immediately puts you at ease. Blurring the lines between time and space, Ruining does what any great ambient artist does: explore abstract forms and the vast aural architecture within.
Ahead of his Friday, Feb 22 at Yue Space courtesy of up and coming electronic label Prajnasonic, Ruining spoke to us about his transformation into an experimental artist, the cultural landscape of Dalian, and his disregard for hi-fi.
How did you end up in Dalian? How would you describe the city to newcomers?
It’s a bit complicated. I don't know how to introduce this city to new friends. In China, cities have different latitudes, different dialects, different customs – and the rest of the layout and administrative methods are pretty much the same.
You’ve played in quite a few well-known bands in Dalian before – Which Park, DOC, and Spiral Cow – what was the transformation toward ambient music like for you?
The change was not very smooth. For a while I didn't know what I was doing, everything was quite vague. Thinking about it later, I realized maybe it was a hardware problem. I had to deconstruct the hardware and tools I was working with, and in the process, I learned to be able to merge in some of those deconstructions that connected with me. It was fascinating – I probably spent two or three years doing it. So now I’m a bit more like an engineer rather than a performer. I can face music more rationally, and I can choose whether or not to bring true feelings into it.
The closure of Echo Bookstore looms large over the scene in Dalian. How did its closure affect you and others?
It was indeed a great loss. The owner of the bookstore [Xie Yugang of Wang Wen] relied on his own strength to give the entire city a place to open their minds. There was a great sense of fulfillment at the time – it was a place that felt like home. Its downfall was not caused by the bookstore itself. It was never meant to be commercially successful, but it did really well – it was a popular online store, maybe even the original 网红店 [a store made popular by its well-known owner]. Its closure basically led to the dissolution of certain cultural aspects of the city. It is not without it now, but it has been separated and shattered into smaller parts. Of course, everyone is happy it existed, and the shelter it gave them. I really appreciate its existence.
Your latest release, Eternity and a Day, is a masterpiece in texture and ambiance. There are so many elements and moving parts within each track that I have to imagine it took some time. What was the process of recording and piecing it together like?
Thank you very much for your praise and using "texture" to describe it. I really do care about texture. I don't really care about hi-fi sound quality. I don't have any interest in using high-fidelity audio recordings or top-of-the-line gear to mix tracks. What I care about is the combination of various elements. There is a Chinese saying 种什么瓜结什么果 zhǒng shénme guā jié shénme guǒ [You reap what you sow]. Most of the album's work is Eurorack + MAXMSP + acoustic instruments. I tried it in various ways. Twenty percent of this album comes from experimental components, although the results of the album don't sound so experimental. I kind of tried something new.
For the music geeks out there – what instruments and synthesizers are you working with these days?
Lately, I’ve been using Operator, which comes with Ableton Live, to make textural sounds. Of course, it needs to be used with some envelope filters. I use Max/MSP to make customized noise generators, granular synths, and samplers in the preferences. This isn’t very hard to do. Max/MSP is easy to learn by yourself, very useful, and incredibly powerful.
What is your favorite piece of gear? What is your favorite ASDR setting to use?
I really don’t have a favorite piece of gear and pretty much treat them all the same. I rather like a dynamic ADSR. Of course, most of the ADSR used in Eurorack are envelope filters. I prefer analog envelope generators over digital envelope generators. Perhaps having knobs that you can control is important; you can’t use CV to solve every problem. If you want to humanize something, you really need to get involved in it.
Do you prefer analog or digital? With the cost of Eurorack being so high, why do you think people like it?
For analog versus digital, I can say that I like both because they can produce different results. With regards to the price of Eurorack being so expensive, actually, the price has already gone down quite a bit. If you are good with your hands, you can buy a PCB and solder a module by yourself. The price is one third or a half of the original product. You really don’t need to buy too many Eurorack modules. One 108HP case is all you really need. What is more important is how you set it up. A lot of people think of Eurorack as something precious rather than a tool.
You’ve been with the Prajnasonic crew for some time now – what sets them apart from the other electronic label that have been popping up all over China?
Prajnasonic is a very new label. But they have full control on the dancefloor, and their treatment of artists is very fair. Not like a lot of young labels out there. They are very professional and all about quality and efficiency. Additionally, it’s made up of a collection of musicians that I really appreciate. I like this kind of partnership – it’s close but loose. Nowadays it’s hard to find such a label. Other labels would only help you to find shows and release an album – it's all too cold. Although the music of Prajnasonic feels cold overall, everyone in the label is warm and enthusiastic. It’s a wonderful thing. I have to thank them for their dedication.
What can listeners expect this coming Friday?
Every time the theme of my performance is different. This time in Beijing, the theme will be sleep. I will still play the guitar this time, and it will be a longer set. A little dreamy/noisy/random – I hope everyone will enjoy it.
Additional translation by Michael Cupoli and Qian Zhang
Photos courtesy of Ruining